Thursday, January 25, 2007

Comics: Of course you realize this means war.

There's a fine line between wanting to deliver the goods to your reader and pandering. War of the Undead, a new mini-series from IDW, avoids lapsing into pandering elevating the practice of pandering to a manic art. The first issue of this thing is packed to the point of absurdity with horror tropes, clich├ęs, and classic moments barely reworked that it flies by in a crazed whoosh, laughing hysterically it all its own bizarre and wonderfully surreal excess.

I'm going to try to summarize the action of the first issue. It's the last moments of World War II and the Nazi war machine is on the brink of total collapse. Hitler has just committed suicide in his bunker and a confused Nazi officer is dispatched on a strange mission: collect Hitler's one testicle. (I'm not kidding.) Apparently it is want by the head of cabal of Nazi black magicians and mad scientists. As a last ditch effort to save the "master race" this scientist and his mummy man Friday have raised an army of zombies. To lead this coalition of the rotting, his revives Dracula and Frankenstein's monster. Though this only happens after we get a gory battle royal between Nazi zombies and the Dracula's protective harem of vampire wives (a battle the ends when somebody rams everybody with a plane). Along the way we get a cameo by Robbie the Robot, some Satan worship, and an allusion to the famous WWII era photo of Russian troops raising the hammer and sickle flag in the rubble that was Berlin.

All this comic is missing is Godzilla and, maybe, a musical number.

As far as plots go, this is about as thin as a plot can get and still deserve the name. The story rolls from go from Berlin to Transylvania to wherever else it wants to with all the care and finesse of a speeding 18-wheeler whose driver had a heart attack and died while trying to negotiate a particularly treacherous ice-covered mountain road. In fact, it is really less of a plot than it is an excuse to just do neato things. The development of characters is strictly functional: this guy is a Nazi; there's our mad scientist, that guy is a zombie; that is an ape with a human brain implanted in its head; and so on. Everything seems aimed towards or sacrificed to the goal of giving the horror fan maximum entertainment.

I know this sounds like I'm putting the book down. I'm not. This one-track approach is the book's strength and the best reason to give it a look-see. There's something great about War of the Undead's complete dedication to giving the reader everything they can thing of. It isn't some cynical, half-assed, tired effort snag our comic buying dollar with more of the same old, same old. Instead, it takes joy in pulling out all the stops. It flirts with becoming an utter and total mess, but achieves a sort of anarchic wildness you don't often see in comics. For all their anti-heroes and violence and fan service, comics want a seat at the big media table. As such, even their scandals now come in $50 slipcase editions. War of the Undead is like a great rock single. It is short, fun, and doesn't sweat the fact that its pleasures are disposable.

About my only complaint is the art. The cover gives us a wonderful painting of a Nazi zombie, gore dripping from its mouth. The innards, however, don't live up to the expectations the cover sets. The art is somewhat clumsy, made more so by heavy-handed coloring that undermines the gore and mood.

The pleasures of War of the Undead are slender and specific, but it delivers on them in full.


Anonymous said...

I googled and took a look at the cover: it does look cool!
Aw, big disappointment if the art inside is mediocre...
Of course, will that stop me from tracking it down?
The answer is woefully obvious.

Hmmm... WWII and Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman?
I better send you that e-mail I talked about (and then forgot to compose and send...).

CRwM said...

The wolfman gets a mention in the first ish, but we don't get to see him in action. Still, there's plenty of stuff packed in there.